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Leonardo Bonucci has enjoyed a remarkable year. In his second season at Juventus he established a regular place in the side, won the Scudetto and now finds himself playing for Italy at UEFA EURO 2012. The central defender spoke at length to UEFA.com about the threat posed by Sunday's quarter-final opponents, which England strike partnership he would rather face and exactly what it means to play for his country.
UEFA.com: Assess Italy's performances at UEFA EURO 2012?
Leonardo Bonucci: We were excellent against Spain in the first match and then we had a few problems against Croatia, although we were never really in any great danger. Against Ireland it was different. It was a strange match because they kept hitting us with the long ball, so we struggled to keep our shape, particularly in the early part of the first half, but in the end we did well to secure the win we needed and qualify for the next round.
UEFA.com: Italy have used different formations in recent matches. Do you worry that the tinkering runs the risk of confusing the players?
Bonucci: No, on the contrary. The changes can only be a strength for us, not a weakness. Our ability to continually change makes us harder to read, not just from one match to another but also during the course of a game. We have players who can play in various positions – that can only be an advantage.
UEFA.com: As a Juventus player you obviously know Giorgio Chiellini well. How keenly will his loss be felt by the side?
Bonucci: We will definitely feel Chiellini's absence because he is a charismatic, aggressive player. He is a leader of the side and not having him is certainly a negative note. But we will try to overcome his loss with other characteristics. This team likes to play good, aggressive football.
UEFA.com: Talking of aggression, what do you think of England? What are their strengths and who are the players to keep an eye on?
Bonucci: In recent times England have taken on more of an Italian feel, having had Capello, who paid great attention to detail in terms of the shape of the side. England tend to play in a 4-4-2 and are more focused on defending well and catching teams on the counterattack with [Theo] Walcott, [Wayne] Rooney, [Danny] Welbeck.
Then they also have [Andy] Carroll, who is tall, good in the air and gives them the chance to play the long, high ball and bring support in numbers. So these are England's characteristics: they are watchful in defence and ready to counterattack.
UEFA.com: As a defender what sort of striker do you prefer to combat? An Andy Carroll type or smaller, quicker players with good technique?
Bonucci: If I had to choose I'd prefer to play against Rooney and Welbeck. They are not easier to mark – Rooney is a world-class player who can win matches on his own – but if he is well marked even he can struggle.
UEFA.com: Cesare Prandelli seems a very prepared coach. What is he like to play for and how does he inspire his players?
Bonucci: He was chosen to be the national team coach because he obviously has many qualities. One of them is his ability to communicate with the side and transmit an air of calmness. In terms of tactical astuteness he's a genius. He can deploy the side however he wants.
UEFA.com: It has been an incredible year for you personally. Did you ever imagine it would go so well?
Bonucci: I was hoping it would. The start of the season was hard because I came back from a holiday that was a bit too long, so I was short of fitness and I paid for it in the first few months. There were also a few transfer rumours which fortunately disappeared.
I stayed at Juventus and became one of the leaders of the side and an Italian champion. Now I have won back my place in the national squad and being here in Poland is a source of great pride for me and now we're hoping to go as far as possible.
UEFA.com: How do you feel when you put on the Italy shirt?
Bonucci: I feel very proud. I'm not saying I transform into something else but I'm certainly ready to give everything I have when I play for Italy. I am ready to spit blood to defend my country.
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